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Back in 2012 when I was told my husbands heart surgery was taking place in San Francisco I was terrified. Not only because, well dah, he was having heart surgery, but because it meant I would need to be in San Francisco too. Staying in the city while my husband was in the hospital or driving back and forth each day were both scary scenarios for me.
I’m not cut out to be driving around in the city. I’m a calm, go with the flow kind of driver. Most of my friends call me the ‘granny driver’. I think you need to be an aggressive driver in order to fit in well in the city, and I’m not even close to that.
Almost a year ago my dad took my daughters and I to the city via the ferry. It was unusually warm that day, which I loved, and we walked everywhere. Walking around San Francisco is a great way to see the sights and experience it to the fullest. The main purpose of this visit was to see a few of San Francisco’s privately owned open public spaces. There are many beautiful views to be seen.
Even though I wasn’t familiar with the city, I felt relaxed and had a wonderful time because our tour guide, my dad, was familiar with where we were. You see, my dad and brother go to the city often to explore.
Recently I had the opportunity to go on a getaway with my friend Brigitte. We had many places to choose from, but San Francisco quickly came to mind. I suggested taking the ferry, but my friend offered to drive. Thank goodness, because I wasn’t offering! Who wants to be stressed out when you’re supposed to be having fun? We passed on taking the ferry and chose to drive since it helped keep the expense down.
We had no clue where we should stay. I asked my dad, but his suggestions were a little out of our price range. He likes to stay in the Union Square area. We knew we wanted to stay somewhat close to Fisherman’s Wharf, so we started our search there. After looking into several choices, some over our budget and some in questionable areas, we landed on the Holiday Inn on Van Ness. We stayed on the 24th floor with a beautiful view of the city.
Other than eating fresh seafood from Fisherman’s Wharf we had no agenda. So after we checked into our room, we grabbed a map and headed out the door. I suggested walking, but my friend didn’t enjoy walking the way I do (I hope to change this someday). We decided to take the bus, but had no idea how the bus system worked. To solve this problem we walked into the market next to the bus stop to ask. To our surprise both the clerk behind the counter and the customer he had just helped gave us all the information we could possibly need to confidently ride the city bus.
We hopped on the next bus headed to Fisherman’s Wharf, found some deliciously fresh seafood and a place to eat while listening to live music on the Wharf. As we sat on the bench singing along to Happy by Pharrell Williams, we discussed moving on when the song ended. Then Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars came on and we both jumped up and started dancing and singing. I felt like a little kid and it was wonderful! As I looked around I noticed we were the only ones dancing around, but it didn’t bother me a bit. We were having fun and that’s all that mattered in that moment.
After wandering around the wharf for a while, we decided to try and figure out where the food trucks were that someone told Brigitte about. All we knew was it was next to Fort Mason by the water. We made our best guess after looking over the map and jumped on the next bus heading in the general direction we thought we needed to go. As we were discussing what stop to take and where we were heading, a few locals chimed in. They told us we were heading in the wrong direction, and explained which way to go after getting off the bus. I couldn’t tell you where we were walking, but the houses in this area were beautiful and the streets were quiet. The next thing we knew, we were at the Yacht Club next to a park. Still having no idea where the food trucks were, we decided to ask a local for help. They knew exactly what we were talking about. They said it was called ‘Off the Grid’ and occurred every Friday night on the other side of Fort Mason near Safeway. I knew where the Safeway was, so I finally felt somewhat confident in where we were heading.
If you’re ever in San Francisco on a Friday night you must experience ‘Off the Grid’. There’s at least 20 different food trucks to choose from along with music. They have a DJ until 7pm and then a band takes over. I had two BBQ sliders from The Boneyard and later from the Creme Brulee Cart I had The Golden Ticket (A Salted caramel creme brulee torched to perfection and topped with dark chocolate shortbread crumble and sea-salted caramel sauce.) It was super yummylicious!!!
We made it back to our room before dark and planned on staying in for the night, but after all the dancing we did in the room, I was hungry again. That’s when we decided to venture out and sample the nightlife in the city. We stumbled across a Karaoke club with a few brave entertaining souls, but no food, so we didn’t stay long. After finding a hole in the wall that served pizza by the slice, which was extremely tasty, we decided to ride the trolley. This was a first for both of us. We caught it on Hyde near Chestnut and rode it all the way down to Market St. The driver was kind and talkative. He offered to take our picture when he heard it was our first time riding the trolley. There were a few people in the closed section of the trolley but we were the only ones at the open end. The trolley conductor said we could stand and hang on the poles. Brigitte took him up on the offer, but I passed. I could enjoy the sights from my seat thank you very much!
The next morning at check out, we discovered we could keep our car in the garage until 4pm. Which I hear is a good deal. We only paid $40 for parking and had been there since we checked in the day before. Our first stop was for coffee and food at The Crepe House on Polk St. I had a large coffee to jump-start my brain and French toast with fruit. Brigitte had one of the scrumptious breakfast crepes. We shared because that’s what friends do.
The rest of our day was filled with a lot of walking, more bus riding, some beautiful sights, a few that were unexpected and more kind hearted city folk.
The Grace Cathedral was our first stop. We arrived during a funeral service, but were still allowed in. The inside, as well as the outside was exquisite. After taking in its beauty, we decided to sit and take it in for a few minutes. As we sat, we heard, and felt, the organs play and the reciting of The Lords Prayer. I could feel the Holy presence of God. This was an amazing way to start the day.
On our way to a bus that would take us near Haight and Ashbury, we ran across a furry friend. Not a cute furry friend, but an ewe gross furry friend. A rat! It was on a street corner hovering over a sewer grate as if it were trying to figure out how to get down there. Unfortunately, it was to fat, so it couldn’t fit through. It didn’t seem to be fazed by the cars or people all around, but I still felt sorry for it. I hope it didn’t get flattened by a car.
While in the Haight and Ashbury area, we came across a young man sitting on the sidewalk drawing with chalk on cardboard. He was talkative and wanted to share with us his about his new love for drawing. He had recently taught himself. By the look of his doodles, he was quickly learning. He said he picked up one day and decided to go to California, from Denver. He had been in San Francisco and homeless for about a month. What would make someone just pick up and leave their home like that? No plan and no resources. I don’t know if he’s a Christian or not, but that would be hard to do with God leading the way. Like the Israelites being led through the desert for 40 years. Doing that without God seems insane to me. My heart goes out to him.
We’re now coming to the end of our adventure in the city and feeling exhausted, so we decided to make our way to the nearest bus stop to take us back to our car. As we’re walking up Fredrick Street, Brigitte says “Oh my goodness, he’s naked!” I wanted to look, but couldn’t at first. Because honestly, who wants to see a naked guy walking the streets of San Francisco? I certainly didn’t, but still felt the urge to look. Yes, there was indeed a naked guy walking up the other side of the street. Well, except for his socks. I’ve heard, since returning, that a person roaming naked on the streets of San Francisco can’t be arrested, only ticketed, if they have socks on. I’m not sure if this is true, but I find that a very interesting law. I guess this is a regular occurance in San Francisco.
Aside from being naked, you could tell he was out of it. I’m guessing he was on drugs, or something, since he stopped and got sick a few times. Thankfully, there were cars parked along the street, so we could no longer notice he had no clothes on. How does someone get himself or herself in such a situation? How could someone’s family or friends let them get to this point? I don’t understand it. My heart breaks as I think of him. Will you join me in praying for him? I pray he would be surrounded by people who know and praise God. Surround him with people who will be the encouragement and strength he needs to point him to God Almighty.
God has changed my heart for the city. I have a new love for the people in the city. Every place we went and ever bus ride we experienced we were met with kind helpful people who are clearly proud of the place they live. Thank you San Francisco for an amazing, fun and heart felt experience. Until we meet again!
My prayer for us today ~ Thank you Lord for opening our eyes to see things the way you see it. I pray you help us continue to open our hearts to the people around us, Amen.
Please welcome Fred Sievert, who began his career as a teacher and then later entered the insurance business and retired in 2007 as President of New York Life Insurance Company, a Fortune 100 corporation. Since then he has had a number of non-fiction essays published and has now finished his first book on his many personal encounters with God entitled: God Revealed: Revisit Your Past to Enrich Your Future. This beautiful encounter with God that he shares with us today is well worth the read. Enjoy!
Between 2002 and 2007, I made fifteen trips to India for New York Life. Those trips were necessary due to a partnership we had established with MaxIndia, a highly respected health-care company that owned clinics and hospitals throughout India. MaxIndia did everything possible to help maintain a good relationship with us, even though we were allowed only a 24 percent ownership interest in the partnership and didn’t have a voting majority on the governing board. Despite the management challenges, frequent visits allowed us to successfully oversee the company remotely.
Initially, I had concerns about traveling so frequently to such a distant land with such a different regulatory, legal, and cultural environment. I had also heard stories about infrastructure problems, poor water quality, and extensive and pervasive poverty, all of which added to my concerns. It wasn’t long before I saw that everything I had heard was true.
But despite the multitude of serious issues besetting the country, India’s economy was booming, the financial services industry was thriving, and New York Life’s growth in life insurance sales was astounding. In the first five or six years of operation in the country, we more than doubled new sales each year and our staff had grown from a handful of people to more than 10,000 agents and employees. This was one of our greatest global success stories and I was pleased to be an important part of it.
I also grew to love India and its ambitious and industrious people, but it took several visits before I could fully appreciate the vibrancy of the culture, the people, and the rapidly expanding economy. I never fully adjusted to the highly visible and unavoidable signs of abject poverty in both the urban and rural areas. The only exception seemed to be the most affluent communities in the larger cities, but even there I was never more than a few minutes from the less fortunate majority of the population. I was pleased that New York Life felt a social obligation to contribute to various charitable causes in the country, and on many of my visits I was delighted to present checks to local adoption agencies and other worthy nonprofit organizations. I prayed often for the people of India and looked forward to each trip there, realizing that through this business arrangement I had found a way to express my faith and to do God’s work.
After one of our board meetings, MaxIndia Chairman Analjit Singh invited me to visit the newest and most technologically advanced cardiac hospital in New Delhi. As we walked into the attractive and modern atrium of the hospital entrance, Analjit asked if I wanted to observe a surgical procedure. At first I was reluctant; I wasn’t sure how I might react to the sight of blood during open-heart surgery. However, I suspected I’d be observing from a surgical amphitheater at least ten or twelve feet above the operating table, and I figured I could easily step back or look away if I felt the least bit uneasy. Moreover, I was excited by the prospect of witnessing something few people ever have a chance to observe. So with my amphitheater-facilitated escape mechanism in mind, I enthusiastically agreed.
After a brief tour of the facility and an interesting meeting with the hospital’s chief of staff and one of its most prominent surgeons, I was taken into a pre-surgery scrub room. There, along with doctors preparing for surgery, I was asked to remove all of my clothing, to scrub my hands and arms, and to don a surgical gown, mask, hat, and booties. These were not precautions that would be required for viewing from an amphitheater! My heart raced, my blood pressure soared. However, I also was a bit disappointed: no doubt the view of the procedure from a poorly positioned location in the operating room would be inferior to what I’d see from an elevated position in the amphitheater.
After scrubbing and dressing, I was shown into an operating room where a quadruple bypass surgery was already in progress. To my shock and surprise, the hospital official who escorted me into the room asked the anesthesiologist who stood at the head of the operating table to step aside so I could stand right next to the table. What happened next was profoundly moving.
As I nervously approached and stood between the cardiac monitoring devices by the patient’s head, I had a fleeting thought about legal liability and how a nonmedical visitor in the United States would never be allowed to get this close to an active surgical procedure. My stomach was literally no more than two inches from the top of the patient’s head, and I was very conscious of avoiding any contact with him or the monitoring devices. I clasped my hands behind my back and held them tightly together for fear that I might touch something I wasn’t supposed to touch.
On my right, stood the chief surgeon and an assistant surgeon, and on my left, the chief surgical nurse and an assistant surgical nurse. The anesthesiologist was right behind me watching the cardiac monitors. She had moved to make room for me, and no one else noticed or acknowledged my presence as they worked methodically on the patient.
Having taken a moment to get my bearings after inserting myself into this unique and somewhat uncomfortable environment, I finally glanced at the patient’s open chest cavity to observe, directly in front of me and no more than eighteen inches from my nose, a regularly and methodically beating heart on which the surgeons were sewing the final few sutures. I stared in amazement, totally engrossed and enthralled.
My heart rate soared as I observed the beating heart in front of me. What a marvel of medical science such a surgery was possible. Who first thought he could cut open a chest cavity and tamper with the human heart without killing the patient in the process? What skill it took and what daring to perform such a surgery for the first time. How many patients were lost in the process of educating and developing these skilled practitioners? And then I thought how the litigious environment in the United States was probably stifling the advancement of medical science by creating deterrents to experimentation with innovative new procedures and techniques.
However, my most moving and enduring reaction to this wonderful experience was a profoundly spiritual one—one I had clearly not expected when I first nervously entered the operating room.
Standing next to the patient, I suddenly realized that I was not nearly as amazed by the work of the surgeons and the advancement of medical science as I was by God’s creation.
In front of me, a fully exposed human heart beat continuously and regularly for twenty or thirty minutes without missing a thump while surgeons confidently finished their work. Even an unhealthy heart could beat continuously for seventy or eighty years, or even longer. The heart never takes a break, not even when we’re sleeping. I began to weep as I suddenly realized that for me this experience was not about technology or the advancement of medical science in India—this was about creation. God’s creation.
What makes that happen? What is the underlying source of life? And how can anyone deny the existence of a divine creator?
As I watched the heart before me, I knew this could not possibly happen by chance. We have yet to find even a single-cell form of life on any other planet, yet the earth is teaming with life. There are more living cells in a teaspoon of our pond water or soil than there are in the rest of the known universe. And here on this operating table was the highest form of life: a man with many highly complex organs, only one of which I was observing. There are so many other marvelous aspects to creation in both the animal and plant kingdoms, and for this one moment in India, I was given a close look at perhaps the most marvelous of all God’s created life forms and its life-sustaining engine: the human heart.
There have been several moments in my life when I very palpably felt the presence of God; this was one of them. During such moments, I often cried with joy, and this was no exception. I fought back the tears out of concern that they might run down my cheeks and drip onto the patient’s head. Fortunately, my soft cotton surgical mask absorbed the tears that couldn’t be suppressed. In that fleeting but memorable moment, I realized how God was vividly revealing to me the wonder of creation. As a businessman originally trained in mathematics and probability, it is much harder for me to believe that somehow humans randomly evolved from an amoeba than it is to believe that this was God’s handiwork and grand design.
God opened my eyes and my mind and renewed my faith when I saw Him and His glorious creation reflected by a human heart that day in New Delhi, India. It’s an experience that has changed my perspective on life forever.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God, nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. ~ Romans 1:20–21
On that memorable visit to India, the wonder of God’s marvelous creation was revealed to me in a way that profoundly impacted my faith. It occurred in a setting I never could have imagined myself in—a sophisticated cardiac facility that I never would have believed existed amid the poverty and deprivation around me.
In my many years on this planet, how often I have missed the opportunity to marvel at the wonder of God’s creation in the cosmos, in plants, in animals, and in human creation. What a shame that I have toiled through my daily life without reflecting on, or even recognizing God’s creation and the intricacies and beauty of my existence and the things I am privileged to experience through my five senses.
Every person reading these words has multiple opportunities daily to briefly stop what they’re doing and catch a glimpse of God and His creation. What in nature, within your eyesight right now exists anywhere else in the known universe? Do you believe it all came about by chance? Do you not marvel at the wonder of what God has made? Can you relate to Paul’s admonition to the Romans that foolish hearts can be darkened to the realities of God’s existence and divine creation? I certainly can! Paul says we have no excuse to miss it; but so many of us do!
I have known several people who have recovered from life-threatening accidents or illnesses who are eager to share how they now live life and perceive their surroundings differently. They now more fully appreciate and acknowledge God’s creation. Don’t wait for a near-death experience to receive that joy and to share it with others. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, warns about the foolishness of those who don’t recognize the undeniable existence of God as revealed in creation.
To find out more about Fred and what he is doing today please check out his website at www.Godrevealed.com. You can buy his book, God Revealed: Revisit Your Past to Enrich Your Future, to read more of his beautiful encounters with God, on his website as well.